World Wide Objects
By Carol Posthumus, Fri Jul 26 00:00:00 GMT 2002

Takes us closer to the beach, with knowledge systems.

The days are long past when the pizza-fuelled coding of the supergeek was driven by visions such as ‘a personal computer in every home and office.’

Pizzas and a passion for code have not gone off the menu of the new geeky class. But, what has changed is the way these system changes and evolves – on a mission to bring on new technologies - envisage how the code they create will make for better lifestyles for people. In fact, “so people can sit on the beach and not worry about work or business” looks to now be the clarion call and a firm aim, not a fantasy, of all sorts of adventurous coders.

The now-old vision of the information age managed, rather quickly, to get us to the state where people today frequently joke that the cubicle-computer-bound existence of many could turn people into “beings like aliens, with huge heads and small bodies sitting behind machines.”

But, if supergeeks, working away at new systems with images of Tahiti dancing in their minds’ eye, have their way – and they have wrought revolutions in our lifestyles efficiently before – you can bet on beaches becoming well populated places. It seems Dilbert cartoon strips may be replaced by send ups of daily beach culture; our frustrations with workplace tools will amount to pesky events such as getting suntan oil on your mobile device.

Knowledge Systems – For More Mobility and Freedom

A daring new system being developed out of South Africa and receiving lots of interest, in the United States and Europe, for its originality, World Wide Objects, is the brainchild of one such supergeek with a view of the beach - and the future of people as quintessentially mobile.

Johan van der Spuy, known here as a classic maverick and talented future-looking coder, believes object-based knowledge systems will make people more mobile and free them from much of the tedium of the information age. His passion for seeing World Wide Objects being adopted as a new technology, has seen him making many transatlantic trips to the United States and northwards to Europe. This guy spends most of his time in the air or coding. Van der Spuy’s fully mobile and likes to connect with the geek community here via his trusty mobile: calling friend’s homes at strange times with informal tech reports on World Wide Objects’ audience responses from locales like highways in Phoenix and hotels in London. He was one of the first people to startle the un-SMS-initiated by sending SMS missives (‘C++ rulz’ and the like, we can imagine) here about three years ago. He liked to do this via a system that sent free SMS from Internet to mobile.

World Wide Objects, the company has, he reports, caused “excitement” with its new way of looking at systems. “We have seen dozens of companies and institutions. Most people are excited by the system: the ones that are not, generally do not understand the whole concept or are intimidated by it. Due to the amount of failures with new technologies companies have experienced in the past decade, they are hesitant to take risks. But they do know knowledge systems and object-based real time systems are the way to go, and slowly, I believe, they will make the change.”

“I Have Issues...with the Early Information Age”

While he has coded for around a decade, van der Spuy has always had a variety of issues with the systems inherited from the early information age. From when he started programming, he had already started conceptualizing the foundation of World Wide Objects as a new kind of system for the future. Indeed, he believes that information systems – as they stand – simply do not work for people or for business. He is committed, rather, to the belief that knowledge systems are the way to go.

Van der Spuy describes knowledge systems thus: “Knowledge is knowing how to use wisdom acquired by experience. This is what distinguishes good business people, after all. Therefore, a solution to a lot of software nightmares – from hundred-year development cycles to expecting poor engineers to be psychics knowing what will happen in five years time – is a system that mimics real life and people in real time. Such a system acquires and provides real knowledge, instead of meaningless information or data.”

Van der Spuy reckons that instead of enterprises wanting to know “all and future requirements for a system” they need to start mimicking business knowledge and processes into systems. “When knowledge and/or processes are mimicked, then you can sit on a beach while your business responsibilities and processes are mimicked back at the office. I see people as being able to check results from time to time using a mobile device and if necessary, change or add some rules or processes remotely.”

Spending Days Behind a Computer –‘Abuse’ of Human Potential?

Responds supergeek Van der Spuy: “Information and knowledge should be available anywhere, anytime. When we have to spend most of our days behind computers just to generate information and knowledge from data, it is frustrating and I’d say, an abuse of human potential. So we should be building systems to meet people’s needs by training and evolving the systems to generate knowledge, so people can do what they do best. Knowledge systems will make people more mobile and also allow more people more time to be at the front end of business or out of the office: doing better business, because they will have knowledge in the palms of their hands.”

Notably a particular personal driver, though, for Van Der Spuy’s development of World Wide Objects was the insistence of business that programmers and system engineers be psychics for the future. Van der Spuy describes being irritated by being expected to take on the role of mystic - or of a spouse sent to buy clothes ‘for next year’: “Everything just always seemed to move on, while information systems were being developed. So systems engineers are always guessing as part of their jobs what business requires three or five years down the line. Information requirements are exponential: software development is exactly the opposite in nature.”

He adds: “Systems engineers really get tired of feeling like a person who is asked by their spouse to go and buy some clothes that they will enjoy wearing next year – as if they will know what they would like, what size they will be and what the fashions will be!”

Get Real Life in Real Time

The solution Van der Spuy felt was to design a system “mimicking real life in real time”. This is what World Wide Objects introduces.

He elaborates: “World Wide Objects gives the user the ability to put knowledge, of business, into a system. It does this by mimicking objects or real ‘things.’ Objects are representations of real things: from the responsibilities of people to the smallest components of a product you are manufacturing. “ Van der Spuy says, hence, World Wide Objects provides real information and knowledge, not just “piles of data.”

This coder has a real aversion for ‘piles of data’ – and especially feels these should be avoided in the mobile era. “As technology moves to mobile devices, the last thing we should see is piles and piles of data just moving to mobile, especially seen as though the technology is a bit slower. To make people’s lifestyles more mobile, one must be able to get facts, results and have the ability to change systems remotely, using mobile devices.

Evolution of systems and software will need to continue to meet the needs of the ‘bigger is not better, the more the merrier’ era. Right now, for example, there is software that can be run on distributed computing points – but not in an ‘evolving’ manner where the end user doesn’t even know or have to bother that knowledge is distributed.”All in all, here’s one geek who can’t wait for the knowledge age to take hold.

"We've called the years we've been living the 'information age'. Though I think maybe we all look back, as I do, and say it is also the 'frustration age'. Going around the world the last few years, many people are frustrated in some way by the information technology that's been created....from the sense of just 'not knowing' to continuous bad results and coding errors.

Hang in there, things are changing - the knowledge age promises a greater sense of knowing, and yes, the chance for people to be on the beach... a lot!"

Carol Posthumus is a freelance author, analyzing how mobile technology impacts our lives. She lives in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.